Tag Archives | Brain

How Consciousness Arises From Networks

manwith2brainsmovieVia Wired, neuroscientist Christof Koch argues that there are consciousnesses that exist outside of biological entities:

Consciousness arises within any sufficiently complex, information-processing system. All animals, from humans on down to earthworms, are conscious; even the internet could be.

My consciousness is an undeniable fact. I might be confused about the state of my consciousness, but I’m not confused about having it. Then, looking at the biology, all animals have complex physiology. There’s nothing exceptional about human brains. That consciousness extends to all these creatures, that it’s an imminent property of highly organized pieces of matter, such as brains.

It’s not that any physical system has consciousness. A black hole, a heap of sand, a bunch of isolated neurons in a dish, they’re not integrated. They have no consciousness. But complex systems do. And how much consciousness they have depends on how many connections they have and how they’re wired up.

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Your Brain Sees Things You Don’t

spoonVia ScienceDaily:

University of Arizona doctoral degree candidate Jay Sanguinetti has authored a new study, published online in the journal Psychological Science, that indicates that the brain processes and understands visual input that we may never consciously perceive.

The finding challenges currently accepted models about how the brain processes visual information.

A doctoral candidate in the UA’s Department of Psychology in the College of Science, Sanguinetti showed study participants a series of black silhouettes, some of which contained meaningful, real-world objects hidden in the white spaces on the outsides.

Saguinetti worked with his adviser Mary Peterson, a professor of psychology and director of the UA’s Cognitive Science Program, and with John Allen, a UA Distinguished Professor of psychology, cognitive science and neuroscience, to monitor subjects’ brainwaves with an electroencephalogram, or EEG, while they viewed the objects.

“We were asking the question of whether the brain was processing the meaning of the objects that are on the outside of these silhouettes,” Sanguinetti said.

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“My Brain Made Me Do It” Neuroscience Defense Increasingly Used In U.S. Criminal Courts

killerCan someone be punished for what their brain made them do? The Guardian on a growing trend in legal defense:

Criminal courts in the United States are facing a surge in the number of defendants arguing that their brains were to blame for their crimes and relying on questionable scans and other controversial, unproven neuroscience, a legal expert who has advised the president has warned.

Nita Farahany, a professor of law who sits on Barack Obama’s bioethics advisory panel, told a Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego that those on trial were mounting ever more sophisticated defences that drew on neurological evidence in an effort to show they were not fully responsible for murderous or other criminal actions.

“What is novel is the use by criminal defendants to say, essentially, that my brain made me do it,” Farahany said following an analysis of more than 1,500 judicial opinions from 2005 to 2012.

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DARPA To Spend $70 Million Investigating Brain Implants

alzheimersThe ostensible purpose is to better treat mental illness, but I think we all know what the experimental research wing of the military’s real motives are. As reported by the Boston Globe:

The federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA, announced Thursday that it intended to spend more than $70 million over five years to jump to the next level of brain implants, either by improving deep brain stimulation or by developing new technology.

The new program, called Systems-Based Neurotechnology and Understanding for the Treatment of Neuropsychological Illnesses, is part of an Obama administration brain initiative that is intended to promote innovative basic neuroscience. Participants in the initiative include DARPA, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation.

DARPA’s project is partly inspired by the needs of combat veterans who suffer from mental and physical conditions, and is the first to directly invest in researching human illness as part of the brain initiative.

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Did RFK Steal John F. Kennedy’s Brain?

jfkThe New York Post reports on one of the world’s most sought-after missing brains:

John F. Kennedy’s noodle didn’t get buried with him. “Not all the evidence from the assassination is at the National Archives. One unique, macabre item from the collection is missing — President Kennedy’s brain,” writes James Swanson.

During JFK’s autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital, the brain was placed in a stainless-steel container with a screw-top lid. “For a time, the steel container was stored in a file cabinet in the office of the Secret Service,” writes Swanson.

The brain was later taken to the National Archives, where it was “placed in a secure room designated for the use of JFK’s devoted former secretary…In October 1966, it was discovered that the brain, the tissue slides and other autopsy materials were missing — and they have never been seen since.”

An investigation ordered by then-Attorney General Ramsey Clark failed to recover the missing brain — which remains unaccounted for today.

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Is Hurricane Katrina Responsible for Brain-Eating Amoeba in Louisana’s Water Supply?

Picture: National Geographic (C)

Picture: National Geographic (C)

Almost a decade later, and we’re still seeing the impact of Hurricane Katrina. File this one under “Nightmare Fuel.” (By the way, the amoeba really does look like a scary clown face. Here’s where I found the image.)

Via National Geographic.

The deadly brain-eating amoeba that recently killed a four-year-old Louisiana boy may be linked to unsafe water conditions created by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, experts say.

The boy, Drake Smith Jr., died from a rare but deadly swelling of the brain caused by Naegleria fowleri, a species of single-celled organism known as an amoeba.

The child was playing on a backyard Slip ‘n Slide in St. Bernard Parish, near New Orleans, and was apparently infected by amoebae present in the water in early August. About two days later, he was dead.

For N. fowleri to gain access to the brain, it must go up a person’s nose and climb the olfactory nerve.

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Scientists Grow Pea-Sized Human Brains In Lab

pea-sized human brain

How long do we have until the creation of the “pea people”? The BBC reports:

Miniature “human brains” have been grown in a lab by scientists at Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

The pea-sized structures reached the same level of development as in a nine-week-old foetus, but are incapable of thought. The study has already been used to gain insight into rare diseases.

The scientists used either embryonic stem cells or adult skin cells to produce the part of an embryo that develops into the brain and spinal cord – the neuroectoderm. The cells were able to grow and organise themselves into separate regions of the brain, such as the cerebral cortex, the retina, and, rarely, an early hippocampus.

The “mini-brains” have survived for nearly a year, but did not grow any larger. There is no blood supply, just brain tissue, so nutrients and oxygen cannot penetrate into the middle of the brain-like structure.

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Norwegian Scientists Say Psychedelic Drugs Linked To Mental Health Benefits

psychedelic drugsHave you had your dose for maintenance today? Via Healthline:

Debunking decades of myths, new research says psychedelics are not linked to mental illness and may in fact have positive residual effects on users.

According to a new study published PLOS One, there is no link between the use of LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and peyote and a range of mental health problems. In fact, psychedelic use is associated with a lower risk of mental health problems like psychosis, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, and general psychological distress.

Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s Department of Neuroscience examined data on more than 130,000 Americans in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

They found that people who used psilocybin or mescaline throughout their lives, as well as people who used LSD in the past year, had lower rates of serious psychological distress, outpatient mental health treatment, and prescriptions for psychiatric medications.

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How The Human Brain Creates Consciousness

optimized_brainMichael Graziano, professor of neuroscience at Princeton University and author of Consciousness and the Social Brain, thinks neuroscience has discovered how consciousness comes about. He explains at Aeon:

Scientific talks can get a little dry, so I try to mix it up. I take out my giant hairy orangutan puppet, do some ventriloquism and quickly become entangled in an argument. I’ll be explaining my theory about how the brain — a biological machine — generates consciousness. Kevin, the orangutan, starts heckling me. ‘Yeah, well, I don’t have a brain. But I’m still conscious. What does that do to your theory?’

Kevin is the perfect introduction. Intellectually, nobody is fooled: we all know that there’s nothing inside. But everyone in the audience experiences an illusion of sentience emanating from his hairy head. The effect is automatic: being social animals, we project awareness onto the puppet. Indeed, part of the fun of ventriloquism isexperiencing the illusion while knowing, on an intellectual level, that it isn’t real.

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Two Lectures and One Interview: Eric R. Kandel on learning, memory, and individuality; Elon Musk on the Future of Energy and Transport; and Ladar Levison on Lavabit

via chycho

Two lectures and one interview well worth the watch:


I. Eric R. Kandel: The Molecular Biology of Memory Storage and the Biological Basis of Individuality
In my opinion and those of many others, the root cause of our society’s ills is how we deal with education, and the following lecture by Eric Kandel emphasizes this point. The argument is made that evolving, learning, memory; our humanity should be looked upon in a holistic manner. That our genes do not necessarily decide who we become; our culture, our methods of learning and teaching, our setting is what decides our individuality, and we, in large part, are in control of our future.


II. Elon Musk: the Future of Energy & Transport
Tesla Motors and Elon Musk have been all the rage lately, and rightfully so considering Tesla just blew away their quarterly earnings and Musk just revealed details of Hyperloop (pdf), a “hypothetical mode of high-speed transportation” which he has proposed.… Read the rest

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